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THEATER | REVIEW

A 'Foreigner' who catalyzes friendships

October 04, 2005|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Its plot is wildly improbable, its story populated with outrageous stereotypes, yet "The Foreigner" has been triggering roars of laughter since 1983.

The show's audience-pleasing qualities are well displayed in La Mirada, where a deftly staged revival of the late Larry Shue's comedy unites people in more than just laughter. Onstage, strangers become friends, celebrating their differences while embracing what makes them the same. In the audience, a similar sense of bonhomie prevails.

Jules Aaron directs such regional acting stalwarts as Morgan Rusler and Jane A. Johnston in this McCoy Rigby Entertainment production at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

The lobby/parlor of a Georgia resort lodge looks cozy if a bit out of date in a humorous John Iacovelli design that slaps a swath of singularly ugly floral wallpaper alongside sections of rustic wood paneling and river rock. The place is deserted when a couple of Brits -- "Froggy" LeSueur (Preston Maybank) and Charlie Baker (Rusler) -- enter from the rainy woods.

Froggy is an annual visitor to a nearby U.S. Army base, where he shares his demolitions expertise. He's brought along Charlie, an old chum, in hopes of pulling the poor guy out of a funk. Charlie, however, hyperventilates at the thought of making idle conversation with strangers at the lodge. So Froggy tells the gregarious proprietress, Betty Meeks (Johnston), that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn't speak English.

Possessor of a droopy, basset-hound face, Rusler needs to exaggerate his features only slightly to achieve the perfect hangdog look. What's more delightful, though, is to watch those worry lines disappear as Charlie realizes he's become the lodge's social hub.

To the widowed Betty, he's a connection to the wider world she's never had a chance to explore. To heiress Catherine Simms (Julia Coffey), he's the listener she needs whenever her fiance, the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Jamison Jones), disappears to tend to his flock. And to Catherine's seemingly slow-witted brother, Ellard (James Leo Ryan), Charlie is compatriot and confidence-builder.

Things turn serious, however, as Charlie sees and hears things that others don't bother to censor, believing he doesn't understand. Certain goings-on don't smell quite right, and sneering good ol' boy Owen Musser (Michael Rothhaar) is only the most obvious skunk. Aaron, who is so good at stirring up little whirlwinds of hilarity, also knows how to bring the action to an abrupt, unsettling halt, sending a chill through the audience.

The play tries to have things both ways, lambasting prejudice and false piety, yet basing much of its humor on the worst backwoods stereotypes. Still, the story is, in most respects, so bighearted that its sins are easy to forgive.

"If only I could tell you what an adventure I've been having," Charlie says to Froggy. " ... We're making one another complete, and alive, and -- oh, I can't explain." We're all foreigners, the play suggests, looking for a place to fit in.

*

'The Foreigner'

Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct. 16

Price: $32 and $40

Contact: (562) 944-9801 or www.lamiradatheatre.com

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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